Refreshing. Earthy. Crisp. These are just a few ways to describe the Tigrita, a cocktail created by Eamon Rockey of the Michelin-starred restaurant Betony. In addition to his role as General Manager, Rockey serves as the restaurant’s resident mixologist, and crafts unexpected yet refined cocktails that have New Yorkers flocking to Betony’s bar just to get a taste of his critically acclaimed aperitifs.
You can make so many drinks with lemon or lime, a couple of good base spirits, and a little bit of sugar.
You can find the Tigrita among other noteworthy creations on Betony’s drink list. Rockey also featured the concoction at New York City’s Taste of the Nation for No Kid Hungry, an event in a culinary series presented by Citi to raise money to help end childhood hunger in America. Rockey is no stranger to the organization, this was his third year as Betony’s ambassador to No Kid Hungry and his first year as Spirits Chair (along with Betony’s Executive Chef, Bryce Shuman, who co-chaired the evening).
Forty-three stories in the sky and overlooking the Hudson River, I was able to snag a few minutes with the mixologist before event-goers began flocking to the bar for a taste of the drink du jour.
Christine: What are you serving tonight?
Eamon: We’re serving the Tigrita, a fun cocktail that is actually named after the gentleman who is behind the bar at the moment, Diego Livera. His nickname is “Tiger,” and he’s the one who introduced the idea of Tepache at Betony’s bar.
Tepache is a classic Mexican homebrew made from the skins of pineapples, combined with piloncillo, a Mexican brown sugar. It’s fermented over a few days, gets mildly to majorly alcoholic, and is super delicious, funky and earthy. It’s a natural bedfellow for beer, which the drink is finished with, along with tequila, a bit of lime, and agave nectar to balance it out.
With such an extensive beverage list at Betony, what advice do you have for people when ordering drinks?
That same question comes up when people ask about going to a good butcher, cheesemonger, or wine shop. People can be intimidated by labels they don’t recognize or words that are difficult to pronounce. For me, it’s all about developing a relationship with the person who’s serving you. Just as you would go to a really great cheese shop and talk to the person behind the counter, learn from them, and have them guide you based on preferences and bits of information you provide, the same thing is true from a cocktail perspective. Go to a great bar or a great cocktail lounge, strike up a conversation with the bartender, and they’ll guide you to a cocktail that’s best for you. It’s all about relationships.
Do you go through a trial and error period when you test new cocktail recipes?
[Laughs.] At Betony, we have a pretty high success rate when developing cocktails. It’s not because we’re working with anything different than anybody else – it’s that we try to base drinks around classic flavor profiles and very clear narratives. Take the Tigrita, for instance. It’s great Tepache, great tequila, great beer, a squeeze of lime, and a little bit of agave nectar. It’s so simple and intuitive – we know that these things go really well together. It’s still a pretty progressive cocktail – we’re brewing things ourselves! But at the end of the day, it came together incredibly quickly because we based it off a story and a series of known relationships between flavor profiles that are delicious on their own.
What do you recommend people serve when they’re hosting others?
Generally speaking, I think that punches are an awesome way to go because they’re communal, usually relatively easy to prepare, and delicious. On the menu at Betony right now, we have a cocktail called the Stone Soup, which is primarily about blending the best possible whiskey with really awesome black tea. We’re using this incredible Ceylon tea as well as oleo-saccharum, which is essentially the rind of citrus fruits that have been left to sit in sugar for an extended period of time. It almost candies them and gives off this bitter, sort of sweet syrup that’s really wonderful. It’s not hard; it just takes a couple days. We combine that with a bottle of sherry – but again, the key is to make sure you get a good bottle of sherry.
It’s called the Stone Soup because of the classic children’s book and also because it’s actually chilled with stones from Central Park. The night we put it onto the menu, I walked over to Central Park, dug up a bunch of rocks, washed them thoroughly, and froze them. Then we added the frozen rocks to the cocktail, and they chill the whole thing without diluting it, which I think is a great tip for the home bartender. No one wants a watered-down cocktail
If you could have one drink for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I’ve become pretty strongly associated with Milk Punch [a clarified dairy-based drink], which has been on the menu since the day we opened, and I had been tinkering and playing with it for years before. The great thing about Milk Punch is that it’s always clear, clean, and super delicious. When preparing the cocktail, you can interchange one ingredient for another very easily. For example, you can use gin one time, then rum another. And that’s not just limited to the spirit, but everything in the drink. You can make it with watermelon in the summer, beets in the fall, etc. From my perspective, Milk Punch is the greatest expression of diversity while still being the greatest expression of simplicity.
Can you share any tips for the at-home bartender?
Invest in things that are high quality as opposed to having every single possible ingredient and not necessarily having a purpose for it. You can make so many drinks with lemon or lime, a couple of good base spirits, and a little bit of sugar. You can make things like mojitos or daiquiris or gimlets or whatever it may be – all with essentially the same basic ingredients. Those are drinks that for me, when made perfectly, are far more satisfying than drinks with a gazillion different bitters or base spirits. I would rather have a really classic London dry gin, or a really classic bourbon or rum, some fresh citrus, a little bit of sugar, some good ice, and just have a great night of making very classic, very simple, but absolutely perfectly executed cocktails.
Join Eamon Rockey in the fight to end childhood hunger by purchasing tickets to a Taste of the Nation for No Kid Hungry event near you. Citi cardmembers enjoy 10% off the ticket price and exclusive event benefits, including expedited check-in and entry, special gifts and giveaways, and access to the special Citi Lounge (at select events).